“It’s not my problem.”

How many times have you heard someone say: “It’s not my problem” – and you are baffled by the response? Perhaps it’s in reference to a task you consider routine, as part of a team. Or it may be a matter of parental responsibility.

Have you ever been caught off guard by the “not my problem” approach? If so, what do you do about it? What can you do about it?

Ethical dilemma?

In parenting, or co-parenting after divorce, when a father or mother says “not my problem,” invariably, a child will suffer unless someone takes care of whatever is being left undone.

In terms of effective teams seeking to accomplish goals, or in the case of a functional family unit still intact, “not my problem” means a break in trust, an inability to rely on the other, and disruption to the flow of interaction and interdependence that makes things work.

In our communities – neighborhoods, school systems, churches and synagogues, our human community – when we ignore what we don’t wish to see, when we say “not my problem,” doesn’t that add to the burden for another? Doesn’t that add to the burden for all of us?

Mixing it up

Yes, I’m mixing themes and situations and each bears proper dissection. Appropriate clarity. A well-reasoned argument, and proposed solutions.

At the moment, I’m not sure I’m in the clarity business. I’m in the seat-of-my-pants solution business, for sure. Scotch tape and staples, to get through the day. That’s often the case for single parents when the other’s mantra is “not my problem.” That’s often the case on a team, when someone’s actions say “not my problem.” That is certainly the case in relationships – married or not – when our behaviors express that we distance ourselves from issues, whether or not we acknowledge them. This is certainly a case of actions speak louder than words – or good intentions.

Hypothetical problems, in search of solutions

The lesser of two evils. What adult hasn’t had to make a choice between the lesser of two evils?

It may be something you think of when you’re voting. It may be a situation of child care versus work. At times, it is a means to view (and assess) competing priorities. And make tough choices, wherein the consequences of one choice over the other will yield a dramatic result – an undesirable result – in either case. So you choose between the lesser of two evils.

You do so based on what your heart tells you, or what your head tells you, or some combination of both.

  • What if your child needs something – and there is no one else to provide it? Do you risk your job to take care of your child?
  • What if there is a life skill that is essential for your child to acquire, and you cannot afford to pay for it?
  • What if the other parent refuses to do so – taking the “it’s not my problem” stance?

Do you jump through hoops to provide a means for your child to acquire that life skill? In doing so, aren’t you enabling the other parent to continue with the “not my problem” behavior, which proves to be effective? In a less personal scenario, do you constantly complain about the political process (choosing between the lesser of two evils), but don’t partake in working toward another solution?

Giving is the best cure for not having

Bruce, at Privilege of Parenting, said it in a post he wrote some time ago: Giving is the best cure for not having.

I don’t recall the article in which he wrote those words; I do recall their profound impact on me. I believe in those words. I believe in fighting “not having” with giving. I believe in giving what we can – not to the point of depletion, but in a fullness, a generosity that ultimately gives back to all of us.

I hope that I practice those words – in the ways that I am still able.

But what happens when what you need to give – you cannot? Or the price you must pay for that giving is murky at best, and offers a subtext that one person’s irresponsibility is acceptable, because someone else will always pick up the slack? Is that really the message we want to impart as managers, as team members, as parents – even as members of our various communities?


  1. says

    It is amazing how people can so easily wash their hands of any responsibility. Oh heck, forget about responsibility – how about common decency?!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It’s surprisingly common, Cathy. In ways small and significant. I think we should somehow be teaching our children about “honor.” Honoring your word. The necessity of trust for any relationship – professional or personal – to function well. I guess we do our best with our own kids, and hope we exemplify what we want them to learn. I think being part of sports teams is another good way for them to learn some of these lessons. Fair play, team work, reliability.

  2. says

    It’s easy to point at the lousy parents; there are so many bad examples out there. The challenge comes in figuring out how to address the matter. I have not yet found a great solution. Mostly we punish the criminally poor parents, ignore the bad parents, and applaud those who do well with their kids.

    How do you tell a bad parent who refuses to become invested in their child’s success that for the kid’s sake, we are going to place your child in a better home? Of course that assumes that is even possible. This… is… so… hard. Does watching the Simpsons help?

  3. batticus says

    “Not my problem” can be a rude way to just say “no”. You had a recent post on saying “no”, it can be important sometimes. Look to see the reasons behind the “no”; are they overloaded also? Do they have constraints you are not aware of? Do they feel part of the process or just get brought in when things blow up? Something in their life is overwhelming their thoughts and requires their focus? Are they suffering from a cranial rectal inversion? :)

    The last explanation can often be the easy one but try on the other ones, just in case they apply.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I know I’ve been vague in my post – and that’s the way it has to be. Partly, because I was trying to generalize a variety of issues too quickly. “Not my problem” to parental responsibilities that very much are our responsibilities. “Not my problem” to a significant other or spouse, when the caring starts to drop away – or simply – there is such imbalance in feeling or effort that the words illustrate the growing gulf. “Not my problem” when it comes to the worker whose lack of work ethic results in a team that doesn’t function consistently – putting a strain (and more load) on the others, to pull his or her weight. And “not my problem” that we all practice – those of us who are good parents, good spouses, good friends, good employees – when we walk by someone whom we may not know – and we ought to risk stopping to help. When we complain about our elected officials, but don’t work to change who’s in office. When we shrug off responsibilities of any sort that belong squarely on our shoulders.

      Who hasn’t done this at least once or twice – or routinely? Most of us don’t do it when it comes to those we love. We aren’t this dismissive. Most of us don’t do it when it comes to our children – unless it is a cavalier means of saying no – as you suggest – simply a matter of semantics and presumably to something not terribly important.

      But many say these words to things that are important. And perhaps my point, clearly stated, is that in those circumstances, “not my problem” becomes compounded, and is a weightier problem for all of us. But there’s no legislating morality, right?

  4. says

    I hate the phrase “not my problem” because the way I see it, eventually someday something will be your problem and you will look for support and counsel. I think it is the easy way out. Accountability is something that is generally lacking because “not my problem” is another way of never taking any blame.

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